Archive for June, 2014|Monthly archive page

The vocab of harmony

In News Reports on June 30, 2014 at 3:18 am

I was wondering when someone will bring up the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act during this war of words between pink and white. So the Institute of Policy Studies researcher who headed the race and religion surveys have done so but only in the last few paragraphs of a column published in TODAY.

“Religious organisations and their leadership should not only play the role of moral guide for their adherents. They must also ensure that society is not fractured. Peace is a crucial dictum commonplace in world religions. There are enough historical examples from all over the world where religious leaders have instigated radical behaviour which has left irreparable damage to society.

“Being aware of this, the Singapore government established the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MHRA) in 1990 to give the government powers to stop religious leaders who may instigate their members in a way which undermines social cohesion. Ideally, the MHRA should remain as a deterrent.

“It would be useful then for religious leaders to remain cognisant of the consequences of what they say or do, not just on those who have embraced their religion, but also on the others who have not.’’

Woah. You know, I have often thought the Act was to prevent religious groups from encroaching on each other’s territory by over-zealous evangelisation and derogatory preaching. In other words, to prevent inter-religous strife.

Here is a reminder (?) that the Act is far broader than that. Words that could “undermine social cohesion’’. Hmm. Looks like there is an automatic switch off button for religious leaders.

No restraining order has been issued since the Act came into existence in 1990 but it is worth remembering that the G has the power, on the advice of the Presidential Council  for Religious Harmony – to restrain religious leaders from addressing their followers on topics that the G deems off limits.  

I am no lawyer but I wonder if the legislation extends beyond preventing inter-religious strife to any kind of strife that has a religious root. And what of the other (non-religious) side? I suppose there is an array of weapons such as the Sedition Act and even the Internal Security Act for the G to resort to.

Things are getting a bit tough for religious leaders. As the writer said, “religious leaders who remain silent about moral positions would betray the confidence that believers have in them’’.The trouble, however, is that whatever they say in private to followers would get out, like the Catholic Archbishop’s position on homosexuality. And in the age of the Internet, views would be circulated far away and beyond, such that those who do not agree with them will feel that “the religion-inspired pronouncements are imposed on the beliefs, and possibly lifestyles, of a broad swathe of society.

The writer says that religious leaders must be aware of the “semantics’’ involved in putting forth a moral position for their followers or initiate a mass campaign lest they provoke confrontation. He’s clearly referring to the wear white campaign by some Christian groups although he didn’t say so. He also says there are other ways for religious leaders to “propagate their beliefs and state them plainly’’, without being confrontational. I wish he gave examples. Because sometimes plain speaking IS confrontational, questions of morality are USUALLY black and white, and words that are picked too carefully end up fudging the issues that are really bothering different groups. We end up with a bunch of politically correct statements that do not reflect true sentiments which will boil over sooner or later. 

I agree with the writer that semantics are important, as well the tone of language. What we need is a vocabulary that we can agree with. Like what is the difference between support and promotion, tolerance and acceptance, defence and denunciation?

In any case, the weekend has passed uneventfully with both the pink and white camps in, well, pink and white. Pink Dot organisers put their number of attendees at 26,000 – a very high number compared to last year’s already 21,000. From news reports, I gather that the white camp turned up in white for their weekend services and while the Muslims say they usually wear white anyway for the opening of Ramadan. To each his own…

But what will happen NEXT year when Pink Dot comes around again? It looks like we have to come to some kind of accommodation or consensus before the LGBT’s next big do, unless of course, the community is so spooked by what it describes the “negativity’’ towards the event that it decides to cancel it.  

If it decides to make it even bigger, with more foreign commercial support which the religious groups keep pointing a finger at, how will the religious groups react? And if the religious groups make even more noise, how will the G react? Will we see the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act being used?  

I think I shall go away during the June holidays next year.

Medicating Medishield for life

In News Reports on June 28, 2014 at 2:49 am

Okay, so the dance of the seven veils has been staged. And more veils have been lifted on Medishield Life, especially the one shrouding the new premiums. They are big increases, but the G is covering it with a $4billion kitty that will last five years. The question is what happens after that?

Anyway, if you’re mightily confused by all the numbers, here’s a run-down on UNUSUAL key points.

Those premiums: Yup, the new ones are high and even higher for the younger people. That’s because people want to be able to pay more when they are working and less when they get older, quite an inversion from normal insurance schemes.

Should this matter? Well, not now because the G is throwing in a load of subsidies, graduated according to age-groups and income.

How? Everyone will get transitional subsidies for four years, while the lower two-thirds will also get permanent subsidies.

Then there’s the 1 per cent rise in Medisave. The one-third group who will no longer get transitional subsidies belongs to the higher-income and that one per cent Medisave increase will cover the higher premiums.

Here’s a gauge:

From next year, if you belong to the two-thirds group, you will pay no more than $3 a month, while the higher income will pay no more than $6.

From 2019, which is when transitional subsidies run out, the lower and middle income will pay no more than $14 a month and the high income will pay at most $30 (which that 1 per cent increase in Medisave is supposed to be able to cover).

Who really will be paying the most? Seems like that group of people of people who are uninsured, because they have pre-existing conditions. It seems that this group number about 65,000 (not really sure about this, sorry). They will be paying 30 per cent more in premiums compared to the rest.

Sounds terrible? Paying more always sounds terrible. But they would be paying sky-high premiums if the G wasn’t footing ¾ of the cost of insuring them – that’s $1.1 billion over five years.

 So will all these changes really help me if/when I get sick? Yes, because you can claim MORE from insurance and reduce the need to dip into your Medisave or put out cash. That’s because the claim limits will be higher and the co-insurance portion that you have to pay will be lower. Remember that this will work for subsidised wards in B2 and C.

A real-life cost-benefit example:

Of those who stayed in a B2/C class ward and got whacked with a bill of more than $10,000, only one in 10 paid less than $3,000. The rest had to dip into their Medisave or cash for more.

But Medishield Life means that six in 10 will pay less than $3,000.

Maybe that old saw about better to die than get sick will die out…In fact, it is good to be above 65 because don’t forget that the Pioneer Generation Package covers them for life.

There are two niggling issues:

First, six in 10 people have already bought Integrated Shield Plans because the current Medishield wasn’t able to cover big bills. How will private insurers react and what will happen to the current IP premiums? Past practice has seen private insurers stack on more when the current Medishield premiums changed. This time, the review committee is telling them to stack the premiums with the same increase, or less – as well as draw up a standardised B1 ward class plan. That B1 ward class plan sounds good because statistics show that seven in 10 with IP plans actually prefer being warded in B1. So here’s hoping the insurers will come up with this, and therefore reduce premiums for such people rather than lump them with uber-rich who prefer private hospital rooms.

 Second, company group insurance and medical benefits which look like a duplication of Medishield Life. Why not use corporate largesse  to enhance Medishield Life and have them move quickly to a portable medical benefits system? This is something the labour movement should take up. A one per cent contribution by companies to employee’s Medisave would go a long way. Perhaps, there should be a systematic shift that will take place over four years, when transitional subsidies run out in 2019.      

I happen to think the Medishield Life review committee seems to have considered many, many aspects of how to cover everyone, including those with pre-existing illnesses. But I wonder how it will enforce “universal coverage’’ since there would those with little Medisave because they don’t have a stable stream of income or are self-employed. Compulsion must mean penalties for non-compliance. Also, it isn’t clear what will happen to Medifund – the last resort for the down-and-out.

But what the review committee can’t do is predict the future, such as whether G largesse can continue, whether the Medishield Life fund will go bankrupt and whether people will pay escalating premiums because everyone wants to have the best of medical technology and healthcare. For all you know, a G craving popularity will forever keep premiums low – and quietly cut benefits.

We can expect to hear plenty of exhortations from the G to be careful about our health and making demands on the medical system just because we think there will be insurance to pay for everything. Looks like everyone has to bear some responsibility to keep the insurance scheme going. It’s not possible (or is it?) for the G to keep pumping in $4billion every four or five years.

There are so many “what ifs’’ especially as we look at how health insurance and retirement schemes run by governments elsewhere have gotten into a mess. Hopefully, health economists will look at the review committee’s suggestions and suggest ways to strengthen the system so it will survive into the future.

Anyway, here’s a toast to our health, the health of our finances – and to review committee chairman Mr Bobby Chin and his team.

A first bite on the third bite

In News Reports on June 26, 2014 at 8:12 am

I am writing this based on Neil Humphrey’s column in TNP which is blurbed on Page 1 as Third Bite is the Deepest which I assume is a twist on the song, First Cut is the Deepest.

The background: I said on my FB wall that sports writers should take the opportunity of gaining as many fans as possible when big games are played, by not merely speaking to the converted. So someone asked me to try and do it myself. Okay. Please bear in mind that I don’t watch soccer, not even this World Cup, and only knew of Suarez’ existence a few days ago and that he plays for Liverpool and Uruguay. But because I am interested in big games, I read the sports news and I depend on TNP to direct me because I gather it’s got the best sports coverage around town.

Anyway, TNP’s inside page headline is Suarez shamed World Cup (all in caps) with Strap: Uruguayan’s brutish behaviour threatens to leave a bad aftertaste

Here’s the story (and my copy-editing comments. My apologies to TNP):

Luiz Suarez has shamed the tournament. (Okay, I know he’s Uruguayan because it’s in the strap) That’s the unforgivable sin that stings the most. (Not sure if an unforgiveable sin stings; more likely to condemn person to hell. But never mind) His temperament has long gnawed (is this suppose to prepare me for BITE?) away at this talent (this talent as in the talent is Suarez or some other trait like his footballing skills?); like a psychological cross (now it’s back to biblical allusions) he must bear in return for his priceless gifts.

But that’s his problem. (His problem as in HIS problem and not ours?) He pays a personal price each time he exorcises his demons (biblical allusion) and his latest indiscretion (but I thought it was an unforgivable sin?) is likely to be the costliest yet (for him I presume).

The third bite goes deeper because it has infected one of the purest World Cups in recent memory. (So now we are back to bite and there is a first and second bite. This bite is like the Aedes mosquito because it can infect. What’s a “pure’’ World Cup anyway? Never mind..)

Argentina’s infighting marred an already poor Italia 90; Diego Maradona’s positive drug test struggled to sour the average fare of 1994 and Zinedine Zidane’s head-butt was arguably the only memorable highlight of a negative tournament in 2006. (I presume that these are references to past World Cups? In 1990, Italy. Diego I believe Argentinian but played WHERE in 1994 and who is Zinedine and where was World Cup in 2006?? No consistency in backgrounding)

But Suarez has left an indelible stain on the most flawless of sporting spectacles. Vibrancy has reigned in Brazil. The cities have exploded in color as the pre-tournament concerns gave way to a collective, almost subconscious desire to get this one right. (Plenty of words but I suppose the gist is that past World Cups have been lousy for some reason or other and this years looks to be real crackling…under Suarez’s third bite – on who leh???)

Fifa’s corporate shenanigans have failed to filter down to the pitch. (I don’t know what they are but never mind – it’s still within theme of keeping the Cup “pure’’)  Brazil’s questionable infrastructure and incomplete stadia (!) have compromised neither the atmosphere nor the artistry.

Positivity reigned. Dutch courage (is false courage no?) was matched by those Teutonic terrors (Germans – attempt at alliteration?), which in turn was equalled by the swashbuckling (piratical? or more samba and sashaying?) South Americans and the committed Costa Ricans (I guess need a C and courage already used….)  

Well, the column goes very much in the same vein without saying anything about the third bite except that the red marks on Giorgio Chiellini’s should go much deeper….(I guess that’s the Italian…we not even told who Uruguay was playing against…) Then more hyperbole on Suarez’ “repugnant act’’, “puerile contemptible act’’, “violation’’, “animalistic”, “penetrating the World Cup’s beauty’’ – we talking rape here? “unsightly scar’’, and a “two-faced tournament’’.

Many, many more words and I still have to guess at what happened. How he tried to “gain an inch on Chiellini” but “took a chunk’’. Three pars from the bottom I suddenly know that he has previous misdemeanours (not sins?) against a Chelsea player and a PSV Eindhoven player. He is described as a “unreformed recidivist’’ “recalcitrant offender’’ (isn’t recalcitrant enough?)  and a “reluctant apologist’’ (U mean apologiser? I think apologist means something different).

Then the final line is about Time being a great healer and football can overcome…  

Okay, I am sure some people would say this is nit-picking. Maybe. Old editing habits die hard. Some people will also say that sports has a language of its own and that columns should be written for sports fans, who already know what’s happening. I agree to a certain extent. But I think it’s wrong for a columnist not to hew to some journalistic basics such as backgrounding and to assume too much of readers. Plus, any columnist would want to gain more fans, rather than be content with a static following. I believe that any report can be made simple enough, even technology, without the need to dumb it right down. 

So here’s my version based roughly on the style above.

Luiz Suarez, the Uruguayan who went from wheelchair-bound to World Cup hero, has just committed an unforgiveable sin. He stained Brazil 2014. Stained it indelibly. He launched his teeth into Italian Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder, and in turn left a mark on what had promised to be a memorably pure World Cup tournament.

Pure, because it was devoid of team infighting (the Argentinians in Italy in 1990, of failed dope tests (Diego Maradona in ? in 1994) and ugly headbutts (Zinedine Zidane in ? in 2006). Even Fifa’s current corporate shenanigans such as ?, didn’t mar the Beautiful Game played out all over Brazil; not even the much publicised shoddy infrastructure with seat-less stadiums.

Then came Suarez’ bite, how long? into this tournament. This bite cuts the deepest because the world has so far been treated to football like it has never been played before, not in World Cup memory. The Dutch danced; the Germans gyrated, the South Americans sashayed and tiny Costa Rica could teach Singapore a thing or two about making it on a world sports stage despite a small population.      

A constellation of stars sparkled. Like (which country) Neymar and his what? , German Thomas Meuller’s X-goal haul? And Argentinian? Lionel Messi’s what? Even the great Cristiano Ronaldo shone despite his Portuguese team-mates lacklustre showing?.

Then came Suarez’ bite, the third in his footballing career. Background on past two bites. His teething problem has earned him bans from matches and it looks like this time, he’s bitten off more than he could chew. Chelliani and who else ??are asking for his head; or rather for him to hang up his football boots.      

The Uruguayan fans do not deserve to have this contemptible, repugnant act played out in front of them in Sao Paolo?. Though numbering just 3.4million, the exuberance they have displayed as Uruguay trounced the English and which other team? warmed the soul/lifted hearts/stirred dreams etc….

Nor does Oscar Tabarez, the team’s coach, a dignified, patient gentleman who now has to defend the antics of one of his la Celeste.

Nor does this wonderful tournament.

Now, you can bite me….

Between pink and white

In News Reports on June 23, 2014 at 1:32 pm

How do you champion or promote a cause without being divisive? Anyway that was Muslim Affairs Minister Yacob Ibrahim’s advice to those on both sides of the LGBT divide. Although it can also apply to any kind of divide…

So if you are a nature-lover, how do you champion a cause to preserve  a green lung without alienating those who think trees should make way for public housing? Or if you are a pet lover, how do you convince those who don’t think dogs belong on trains? Or, more to the point, how to hold an LGBT celebration in public without bystanders looking askance? Hold it indoors?  

Causes are by themselves divisive, which is why they are so-called. You can’t champion a cause by keeping quiet. And if you don’t keep quiet, how do you make your case in such a way so as not to attract the epithet that you are being “divisive’’? Or to have someone use that seemingly derogatory phrase that you are “lobbying’’? Ooooh. Shades of Western liberal democracy with its lobby groups putting the Government machinery in gridlock status! We don’t want that!

 Dr Tan Cheng Bock, for example, thinks that Nominated MPs shouldn’t be allowed to air their “causes’’ in Parliament because that would make them “partisan’’. They must speak in the national interest, which apparently is not made up of different “causes’’.

If you have a “cause’’, you are probably a member of the “fringe’’, that outermost group who are at odds with mainstream sentiment, although who can really represent the mainstream is a moot question. Or is that the G, elected by people?

So confusing.

Does it all depend on whether the cause is deemed “good’’ or “bad’’ and for whom? Nobody can argue with the Small Kindness Movement or a campaign to respect the elderly. The cause, in other words, had better be, for want of a better word, bland.

So I am watching all the fuss about the upcoming Pink Dot event with much interest. I suppose the fact that it got bigger and bigger over the years was bound to provoke a response from non-LGBT elements. (Sheeesh. I had better be careful here to avoid being attacked from either side of the divide)  

So some Muslims want to wear white on the same weekend that gays are wearing pink. And a group of churches intend to do the same, more or less that same group who wanted to hold a Family Festival. Plenty of people and groups  are talking about it, with some trying to find a middle line between the white and the pink.

I wager that many are also just ambivalent or are unclear about how to view the issue. And they may not even want to articulate it if they do.


It is not fashionable to knock the LGBT group, and it sounds bigoted if you do. It might also expose your religious frailty if you condone it  and lead to attacks that you lack a moral/religious core.  

Well, methinks people are free to organise themselves, free to express their emotions so long as they do not hurt anyone, free to hold outdoor parties if they have the licence. There are laws that will police their action. If the problem is with words, there are also laws which protect social harmony including the new anti-harassment laws.

But clearly, the LGBT group is pushing itself forward with its constitutional challenges to the law. It is also strengthening in numbers. The Health Promotion Board’s health advisory on sexuality has complicated what had seemed like the G’s hands-off position on the subject (barring section 377A).

Now, we’re witnessing a pushback on the part of the conservatives who include both Muslims and Christians.

Frankly, we lack the rules of engagement to deal with this extremely emotive issue. Maybe the statements below will help stop the pot from boiling over:

For “conservatives’’…

I do not condone homosexuality (for whatever reason) but I do not think it’s right to vilify homosexuals or those who support them (for reasons which can include treating everybody as being able to hold an opinion or to live their life the way they please or being unwilling to pass judgment on others)

Neither will I condemn homosexuality openly nor use labels such as “irreligious’’ or “immoral’’ – even if I think so – to prevent fracturing society. But I will promote the traditional family unit as a counter-point. And that includes wearing white. 

 And on the other side….

I condone homosexuality (for whatever reason) but I will not vilify those who hold a different view, characterise them as bigots or ridicule their reasons for being against homosexuality, such as their religious beliefs. I will keep my thoughts private.

Neither will I promote homosexuality openly as I agree that most people in society are not ready and doing so will lead to society fracturing. But it does not mean I cannot wear pink to show my allegiance.

I’m sure there will plenty of people who disagree with my very simplistic formulation for peace between the camps.

There will always be arguments that will never be resolved such as “if you say you’re inclusive, you must include gays”” or “if you are pro-family, you should be anti-gay’’ or “only atheists support homosexuals’’ or “if everybody is equal before the law, why is one section tilted against gays’’ or “why is the G giving advice to gays at all?’’   

I am not even sure that there is a middle ground for the two extremes to meet. Consensus will probably appear in only a generation or two. In fact, the phrase that both sides can use most usefully on the other is “Please, don’t get in my face. Not now.’’  

Taking the cover off insurance

In News Reports on June 22, 2014 at 7:00 am

When you buy private insurance, you usually look at two things: extent of coverage and whether you can afford the premiums. So it is right for Health Minister Gan Kim Yong to say that people should consider the premiums they would have to pay on private shield plans, besides class of ward, before deciding whether to ditch them for Medishield Life.

His point is that premiums will change over time, especially with the advances in medical technology. So what you are paying in premiums now might be sky-high in the next decade or so.

But what is odd is that despite what Mr Gan said, we STILL don’t know what Medishield Life premiums will be, except that they will be “affordable’’ with the cash portion on hospitalisation substantially reduced; the so-called co-insurance portion.

We’ve been told instead to wait for the private insurers to come up with their new premiums, since they now have Medishield Life premiums to factor in. So we wait.

I don’t know about you about it does seem like the G is trying to wean the people off private health insurance which, by the way, was meant to complement the current Medishield’s inability to cover the big medical bills. So this part of the equation seems to have been fixed by the G, although two in three now also have private insurance. I wouldn’t blame the private insurers for feeling a little hard done by.

But who cares about them you say? Blood suckers!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I wish we knew exactly how much in premiums the different age groups will have to pay in Medishield Life.

There are some throwaway lines in ST’s report of its interview with Mr Gan:  

–          That those with pre-existing illness who are not covered will be paying premiums that are 30 per cent higher than others in their age group when they are brought under Medishield Life. So, premiums already calculated – just not publicised.

–          That the current Medisave cap of $800 to $1,400 to pay for insurance premiums might have to be tweaked for some age groups. So, premiums already calculated since we’re talking about changing Medisave caps.

ST has tables which show the benefits of having Medishield Life versus Integrated Shield Plans. The private plans are great if you want to stay in the private class of ward and have a big bill. But you actually have to pay more out of pocket for smaller bills.

 So if you are crazy enough to go for Class A ward for your heart bypass with your Medishield Life, your out-of-pocket will be 70 per cent of the bill. But a patient with a private plan will pay just 29 per cent.

Sounds good to be on a private plan, except that private insurance premiums are five times that of Medishield (not Medishield Life).  So I guess with Medishield Life, private premiums will be more than five times what the still unknown new Medishield Life premiums will be?  

It is really too strange to know the benefits of Medishield Life, but not the cost…

Enough people have said that they don’t need to know everything: Just tell me how much to pay. They feel overwhelmed by too much information. I don’t know about you but I am a bit troubled by how much this new medical insurance scheme is going to cost the country. Universal coverage is of course popular but is it, to use that ugly word, “sustainable’’ especially if it will also be insuring those with pre-existing illnesses which private insurers won’t touch?  As citizens, we shouldn’t leave our brains behind when it comes to something like health insurance and trust to the G to do the right thing. We’ve got to do some thinking too.

Rather than focus on whether people should have or should not have private insurance, why not focus on moving companies towards portable medical benefits/insurance? Some year ago, at yet another health insurance review, the labour movement made a big fuss about it. Then it died down. Now it’s been resurrected by Mr Lim Swee Say and my worry is that the idea will again fade away. I am no health financing expert but the idea seems such a no-brainer. It rides on the Medisave and MediShield  framework to provide medical benefits. Companies make an additional contribution of at least 1 per cent of wages to an employee’s Medisave account, which the employee can use to pay for MediShield premiums or buy an Integrated Shield plan from a private insurer. An employer can also choose to provide staff with Integrated Shield plans.

But only 17 of 1,400 unionised companies in the private sector have taken up such plans and “very few’’ non-unionised firms, according to a TODAY report. The Civil Service is one of the employers who have made the move.  

It looks like it’s inertia that is causing companies to stick to whatever plan they already have. Too much hassle to shift from its current group insurance scheme, for example. It is not as though there are no incentives. Such employers can enjoy a higher tax deduction for medical expenses of up to 2 per cent of their employees’ remuneration.

With Medishield Life and the prospect of higher premiums, isn’t it time to stop this double insurance? Especially since the insurance will lapse when the employee changes company or retires. I know of enough people who suddenly find the health rug pulled from under their feet when they retire, so used are they to their company’s largesse that they neglected to think for the period after working life.

The labour movement should put its money where its mouth is. Only 17 unionised companies? What about the rest? Time to re-negotiate the terms no?  

That old lady and her CPF Part 2

In News Reports on June 21, 2014 at 6:08 am

I thought the ST news report on the old lady and her CPF was quite confusing so I went to look at the original statement on whether she could have her CPF money back. I think it still needs “translating’’ so I’ll try to do it here.  

Background: Ms Irene Yap, 76, a retired teacher went to a dialogue on the CPF with her MP Hri Kumar and started insisting on getting her CPF money back so she can prepare for her own funeral. It led to various questions on why a member of the pioneer generation was treated that way and added fuel to the charge that the G was hoarding CPF money.

The CPF Board and Dr Amy Khor released statements in response. Here it is – and the translation.

The CPF Board would like to take this opportunity to clarify that CPF members who meet the Minimum Sum requirement at age 55, including property pledge where applicable, can withdraw any amount in excess from their Ordinary and Special Accounts. 

(Translate: The minimum is $155,000 from July 1 for those who turn 55 this year. If you have $155,000 in your Special Account, good for you because you can take everything out of your Ordinary Account. If not, you have to see if your two accounts make up $155,000, which will go into your Retirement Account).

(Now, you DON’T have to keep $155,000 in the Retirement Account. You can keep half, or $75,500, in it and use your property- which has an annual value – as a “pledge’’ for the rest)

(If you don’t have the $155,000 and you don’t have property, you are are still allowed to draw out a maximum of $5,000 at age 55.)  

 Such withdrawal can take place at 55 or anytime thereafter.  Some CPF members are eligible to do so, but choose to leave their savings in their Ordinary and Special Accounts.

CPF members, on reaching their drawdown age, will receive a letter from the CPF Board informing them that they can apply to receive monthly payouts from their Retirement Account (RA).

(Translate: Note that the “drawdown age” for monthly payment is different from “withdrawal age’’ of 55. Right now, it is 65)

Our records indicate that we sent a letter to Ms Irene Yap four months before her drawdown age in 1998 to inform her that she can apply to receive monthly payouts from her RA.  She was in contact with us subsequently to clarify some information.

(Translate: For those in Ms Yap’s cohort, the drawdown age would be 60. So she was contacted then about monthly pay-outs but according to Dr Amy Khor, she didn’t respond to CPF)

In 2012, we received a query from Ms Yap on her RA. We responded to her query via a letter and informed her that she can either commence her monthly payouts immediately, or withdraw her RA savings in a lump sum if she has a property to pledge.

(Translate: Ms Yap can withdraw EVERYTHING if she has a property to pledge – and it seems like she lives on private property. Now, this 100 per cent withdrawal only applies to her generation because the CPF rules then said that property can be used 100 per cent in lieu of minimum sum. So don’t get your hopes up if you are not of her vintage. The rules have changed since then. BTW, Dr Khor said the CPF Board didn’t hear from her then too)


The CPF Board is in contact with Ms Yap to help her withdraw her RA savings if she wishes to do so.   

(My question then is: Why did the CPF not make an effort to contact her after 1998 when she didn’t respond to it on getting monthly payment? Or in 2012 when it didn’t hear from her after she queried? One wonders how many old people – Ms Yap is single – are in the same state. Maybe more effort should have been taken? Or would this be too much effort?)       


Plain-speaking or pain-speaking?

In News Reports on June 20, 2014 at 12:58 am

This is a public service announcement:

With regard to the Prime Minister’s recent FaceBook post on the need for plain speaking to further enhance and better improve the public’s understanding of Government policies, I intend to facilitate efforts by devoting a section of Bertha Harian to an intensive critique of public service pronouncements. This is part of an on-going move to bolster an active citizenry which must have access to full facts to reach conclusions without prejudice in a non-partisan manner in a society where constructive politics should be the norm.

In other words, I’m gonna try to do some idiot-proofing…starting with MOE’s reply in ST Forum page..

WE THANK Mr Neo Lin Chen for his feedback and the opportunity to clarify the matter (“Who sets P1 priority eligibility criteria?”; last Saturday) .

(Usual start to any kind of letter. Note that it is always good to “thank’’ people rather than use “We REFER’’ – more personal lah.)

The Ministry of Education (MOE) sets the Primary 1 (P1) Registration Framework.  (This is answer to the original letter’s headline – very straightforward…but what the heck is “framework’’?)

The framework takes into account the diverse interests and needs of parents and their children, and reflects a careful balance of various considerations, including siblings already studying in the school, parental or clan ties with the school, parent volunteer work, community involvement and proximity to the school.

(Urrrrrghhh….a framework means “everything’’ – note that this is the list of phases in the registration process with nice words such as “takes into account’’ and “a careful balance’’. Would you know what a careful balance entails? The word “framework’’ can be used for any, any thing…Singapore tax framework, funding framework, manpower framework. It’s an empty, meaningless word unless you really give full details of the framework.)  

While MOE sets the P1 Registration Framework and policies, the relevant organisations have to endorse their respective members (such as community leaders, parent volunteers, clan/church members) for eligibility to register under the various registration phases.

(How does this answer the letter-writer’s question on who sets the eligibility criteria? So MOE has a “framework’’ and does this also mean it sets eligibility criteria BEFORE the groups endorse it? Or do the groups set their OWN eligibility criteria and ALSO endorse it? Because if so, I can always tweak criteria any time to suit anyone. Do I have to send the eligibility criteria to MOE to vet?)

The People’s Association has recently changed the criteria for endorsing its active community leaders to be eligible for the P1 Phase 2B registration, which will take effect from the 2016 P1 Registration Exercise.

(Re-write: The People’s Association has recently changed the eligibility criteria giving community leaders preference in primary school registration for their children. This will start from 2016. NOTE: would be good to say what the change is so readers have full information)

MOE has no objection to these changes.

(Does this mean MOE looked at PA’s criteria first and hence has “no objections? What about other groups like clan ties? If I were a clan/church leader and have a kid going into P1, I’ll tweak the rules to fit my kid…As for parental involvement, the school sets its own rules? NOTE: I am not saying schools shouldn’t have autonomy but the MOE should really answer the question on who sets eligibility criteria fully. So far, all I get is a “framework’’ and the rest about who sets criteria is really fuzzy)

To ensure open access (urrrgh. Ugly phrase) to all primary schools, MOE will be reserving 40 places for those without prior connection with the school before the start of this year’s P1 Registration Exercise.

(So is 40 places a change? An improvement?What percentage of Phase 2B does this form?)

It’s so difficult to re-write this plainly because the CONTENT isn’t plain to me. Verdict: Fail


Religiously speaking

In News Reports on June 18, 2014 at 2:23 am

So the results of yet another big survey have been released by the Institute of Policy Studies. This time, on religion. Remember that it had  also released an earlier one on race? Again, more or less the same thing with similar results. People are comfortable with those of different faiths in the “public’’ sphere. But quite another thing when it comes to marrying someone of another faith, especially among the Muslims and Protestants. These two groups also disapprove of members giving up their faiths: Muslims (69 per cent) and Protestants (about half).

One thing I found lacking about the survey is that it didn’t give the proportions of people of different faiths in Singapore. So how many Muslims and Protestants are there? Are they “growing’’ religions? And how has the entry of foreigners and new citizens affected this balance? Also, aren’t there other surveys that look at the degree of religiosity?  How do they compare with this?

The survey doesn’t seem to cover the attitudes of those with a religion to those with none. Or attitudes towards particular religious groups. Maybe, that is not within the scope of the survey.

The authors have this to say about this aspect though: “Considering that for many Muslims, Protestants and Catholics, a mark of the good person includes the teaching of one’s morals, it is important that they temper this with a respect for those who do not share such values.’’

You know, there is this difficulty when talking about religion. Strong moral values equal religious values? Then what about those with no religion? Or should there be a set of universal, secular values grounded in this “safe’’ word – ethics? The survey shows that those with religion tend to view certain aspects of living – on divorce and pre-marital sex for example – quite differently from those who don’t have one. In fact, the label that can be attached to the second group is “liberal’’.

A couple of people quoted in TODAY talked about how potential clashes might not be between religious groups, but religious groups banding together against the non-religious group developing into some kind of “culture war’’ between the conservatives and the liberals. That’s worth thinking about when you recall the clashes over the seeming “promotion’’ of gay lifestyles by the Health Promotion Board and the existence of Section 377A criminalising homosexual sex.   

Anyway, here’s a quick run-down of what I think is notable about the survey results. Please note it’s just my one cent worth of opinion.

  1. Muslims and Protestants feel most strongly about their religions. The survey authors think that for Protestants, this is because the  “dominant form’’ is of the conservative variety where there is “an emphasis on doing the right thing’’. Plus, most are probably first-generation converts. They said nothing about the Muslims; guess it’s taken for granted that Islam pervades their life. Whether this is more so now than before isn’t answered.
  2. The Buddhists and Taoists are the most “zen’’ about values, hovering between the Muslims and Protestants and those with no religion. One departure – they are more tolerant about gambling than the rest – less than 60 per cent think gambling is wrong. I can already hear wags saying that this is more a Chinese trait than anything to do with religion.
  3. About 65 per cent of those with no religion say they disapprove of homosexual sex, compared to 78 per cent of those with a religion, according to ST. The authors tried to spin this gap as “not far off’’ and a reflection of Asian conservativeness’’. Hmm.. so the gap is NOT big. What would be big then? In fact, the authors tried very hard to say that the views between the two groups especially on same-sex issues are not too different.  
  4. If you want to know what people are most “relaxed’’ about, it’s cohabitation before marriage and divorce, with only about 44 per cent of people disapproving of them.
  5.  About 24 per cent of people surveyed think that religious groups should be given MORE rights. Again, the authors spun this as a reflection of how many people here believe concessions must be made in a multi-religious society for all to get along, that is, it is ONLY 24 per cent who want more rights. The thing is, the survey doesn’t say if this was the prevailing view among any group or if the view is scattered among every religious type. Yet, I’m sure the authors have the breakdown.

So is this from Muslims who think women should be allowed to wear the hijab in government frontline jobs? Or those who belong to churches a la Lawrence Khong who want the State out of what it thinks are church matters? What sort of “rights’’ are they talking about?

  1. As for whether increasing religiosity would hurt religious harmony, here’s how the media put it: ST says that “a majority’’ are confident that harmony won’t be affected. TODAY said: “While almost four in 10 felt that increasing religiosity could hurt religious harmony here, many others were ambivalent or did not agree with this proposition.’’

What are the statistics then? This is the statement: Increasing religiosity could harm religious harmony

Agree/agree strongly: 38.5 per cent

Somewhat agree (the ambivalent group) : 33 per cent

Disagree/disagree strongly: 28.5 per cent

This is a typical glass half-empty/half-full syndrome. If you lump the somewhat agree and agree or agree strongly together, seven in 10 think it would be harmful. You decide.  

  1. People want the state to continue playing a role in maintaining harmony with two in three people saying they would “report to the authorities’’ acts of bigotry whether in the real or virtual world.
  2. One interesting nugget in TODAY: One in four people said they have attended a religious meeting or been to a religious place that is not of their faith. The survey authors think the number is small, and may be because people are hesitant about being “converted’’ if they learnt about another faith. I don’t know about you, but I thought one in four is a pretty good number.    

Well, that’s eight points I can glean from news reports. The bottomline: We are all getting along just fine, at least for now.



Guide to bad writing

In News Reports on June 17, 2014 at 6:46 am

This blog post is prompted by the wonderful words of the PR people in DBS/POSB about the ATM disruption reported in MSM today. She/He said that “a small number’’ of ATMs were “intermittently impacted by a connectivity issue’’. So customers might have “experienced issues’’.

Some people have suggested that that’s the way business people speak to avoid liability and litigation, so we should forgive them. They just don’t want to lose money. It’s like saying that’s the G speaks in a certain way to avoid losing votes – and it is therefore understandable too.

I don’t buy it. But that’s just me. In any case, let me help the PR people along with this Guide to Bad Writing.

  1. Why use a short word when a long one is so much better at impressing people who don’t even know what it means?
  2. Always be ambiguous so people don’t know what you are talking about – and when you don’t know what you are talking about.
  3. Reach for the oft-used phrase because people’s eyes tend to glaze over clichés.
  4. Write sentences with multiple meanings so you can always tell someone they got your meaning wrong/right.
  5. There is no such thing as a problem. Everything is a challenge. Of course, everything can be improved so you must always meet challenges that will FURTHER improve, bring to a HIGHER level and BETTER enhance anyone’s “experience’’.
  6. Issue is a very good word and can be laid at the door of anything that goes wrong. So there are “human’’ issues, “technical’’ issues, “administrative’’ issues, “engineering’’ issues and “connectivity’’ issues. Nobody will take issue with you over the issue.
  7. Try to “-ise’’ everything. Like synergise, energise, urbanise. No one will realise that what you are saying is a compromise.
  8. Only say that you are sorry for inconveniencing someone or if you have hurt someone. Never say sorry for being stupid or careless.
  9. Statistics are good because numbers can lie. So always compare something with something really very bad, like how your company is doing as compared to when Sars hit or during the Asian financial crisis.
  10. Proportions are good too. If four in five Singaporeans love National Service, it sounds better than one in five. And one in five is better than saying 1 million people.
  11. Never pin yourself down to a time-frame. Use periodically, regularly if not short-run, medium-term and long range.
  12. Actually, don’t even use “use’’ if you can harness. Like harness resources, energies and goodwill. Because everything can be harnessed if you try hard enough.
  13. Never say someone said if you want him to sound intelligent. Try “expound’’, “elucidated’’ or “opined’’. Second choice: “elaborated’’ or “explained’’. Better still, say he “issued a statement’’.
  14. On statements, if you make a strong enough statement like People don’t/do trust the G, some people will actually take it as fact.
  15. As a matter of fact, you should use “as a matter of fact’’, “the truth of the matter’’, “it is to be believed/recognised/acknowledged’’ and even “Forsooth, in truth’’ so people will know you are not lying.
  16. If you have to talk about something you really don’t want to talk about, use a preamble such as “with regards to the circumstances surrounding…’’, “with reference to the afore-mentioned situation concerning …’’, “in view of the conditions affecting the incident that arose from….’’
  17. Remember to give as little information as possible; just imagine that you are talking to sheep. Better still, try not to  talk to sheep because you’ll look silly.
  18.  Remember that “intensive’’ or “extensive’’ or both, should always come before feedback, consultation, review and deliberation.  After which everything must be monitored “closely’’.
  19. You never suffer a “setback’’. You experience a “slow down’’. And both are “temporary’’.
  20. You never lose any money. You experience a cashflow or liquidity challenge.

 Here’s how to deliver bad news in a worse way. Banks, please note:

With regards to the circumstances surrounding the accidental intermittent usage of our automated teller machines, we have ascertained that this was due to a connectivity issue. This connectivity issue – as distinct from human issue – was immediately investigated and promptly rectified with further improvements to better enhance the customer experience. We apologise if anyone has been inconvenienced by the lack of access to liquidity. Rest assured that we will conduct an extensive review, do intensive due diligence and harness public feedback to synergise our operations to better effect. Only one in five of our customers will be impacted by our on-going review which, truth to tell, is a very small number. Really.


That old lady and her CPF

In News Reports on June 15, 2014 at 4:06 pm

So the video of the 76-year old retired teacher begging for the return of her CPF money at a dialogue is making the rounds. People are discussing it and the way I see it, it’s a discussion between the head and the heart.

Heart: Aiyoh. That poor old lady! How can we treat old people this way! Why can’t CPF return her her money so she can prepare for her own funeral rites? She’s already 76!

Head (indifferent) : Well, she was paid every month from her CPF and don’t forget she lives in a $3m house…

Heart (indignant): That house! It’s awful…how can people dig out information like that and put it on the Net? No privacy for the old lady! And so what if she lives in a $3million house? It’s still her own CPF money!

Head (chugs his beer): If everyone starts asking for their CPF money back, then how? What if she blows everything in one go and still lives another 10 years? You going to look after her? Remember she even forgot to pay her property taxes.

Heart (spills his beer) : Ah! Another heartless move! Since when can the G anyhow take from people’s bank account? I hear it can even garnish your income…Take from your employer your salaries!

Head: Ya, it can. If not, then how? People don’t pay and we just let them be? What will the rest of the people who pay up say? Got one rule for one set and another rule for another group?

Heart: But it’s HER money and she’s so old already.

Head : She can sell her house and get cash and move to a smaller place. And if she still lives for a long time, she can use both her money from her property and her CPF! She probably used CPF to pay for the house anyway!

Heart (furious) : But maybe she don’t want to move! She lived there all her life and wants to stay there till she dies. A lot of old people are like that…

Head (picks his teeth) : A lot of old people also don’t have $3m houses that they can sell! Other people downgrade, so why can’t she? She empty out her CPF and she has no more money, then how? Get the G to feed her? Or you pay more and more taxes so she can carry on? She will probably still have to sell her house in the end!

Heart (even more furious) : Still doesn’t get to the point that it is HER money. She seems quite well-educated. Ex-teacher and all. So she probably knows what to do with money. I can’t understand why the G has to be so rigid. Must be those high salaries they get paid…

Head (cynical): Hah! She’s single, so got no children to help her plan her finances. She sounds like she’s all alone. Sure someone will go con her, like that volunteer who used the old man’s ATM card to keep withdrawing his money. You want to trust her with her money?

Heart (raised voice) : Exactly my point! It’s her OWN money, so what business is it of anyone how she spends it? Thing is, the G just doesn’t want to give us our money back. Or it thinks we are all too stupid to know what to do with our own money.

Head (bites chicken wing): Eh friend, I think you are getting too emotional. If we let her have her CPF, then we have to change the rules for all. That means, everyone gets their CPF money back and we have to pray that that money can last as long as they live…Because if not, you and I are going to have to pay taxes through our nose when they start complaining that their money has run out!

Heart (throws chicken bone on floor) : What do you mean change the rules for all? Case-by-case basis lah. That old lady is too pitiful. She should have just taken all her CPF money out when she retired in 1988 when there wasn’t all this crazy thing about CPF Life and what not. Instead, she trusted the G and left her money behind. Actually, how much you think she has left now? Can’t be too much because minimum sum was then about $30,000? So just give to her lah! If she want to sell her house later, up to her.

Head (talking while chewing): What if she comes up to Hri Kumar in a few years and say: “I have no money because the CPF supposed to be for my retirement and it’s not enough, so the G must look after me now?’’ And she STILL don’t want to sell her house and you soft-headed people make excuses like she old, she wants to die in place, let her be and yadayada….

Heart (chewing while talking): You assuming he’s going to be re-elected. I still think the G can find a way out for her. Go talk to her about her house, her forgetfulness and her property tax troubles. 

Head (lights cigarette): Ya. I’m sure that Hri Kumar is hurrying over to her place to help her…

Heart (lights cigarette): You mean to shut her up? He’s probably regretting holding the dialogue.

Head (musing aloud after exhaling). Actually, I think you can see what’s going to happen when the seniors form a lobby….they can start asking for things as a “group’’. Probably got plenty of people like her who lived well, stay in big houses, and still want to live well when they’re older even if they can’t afford it. The G give them Pioneer Generation Package some more…Maybe should keep the package and give them their CPF back.

Heart: Aiyah. So heartless!

Head: What heartless? Your bloody head…!

Heart: Okay okay, you are not as heartless as that woman in the high-cut cheongsam….!

Head: Ya…she’s being CSI-ed now. Doesn’t she know that even closed door dialogue you can be recorded? And your face can go on YouTube? Silly woman should have kept her face straight…

Heart: Wah. At least you and I agree on one point. Want to get another beer and then watch World Cup?

Head: Okay, I go queue for chicken wings to ta pau.